[UPDATED: 7:23 p.m.]
Michael Bollinger is leaving his position as executive director of South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), effective immediately.
His sudden departure, a decision he said was mutual, comes two years after Bollinger . Bollinger’s interim replacement is SOPAC director of development Linda Onorevole.
"The board has decided it was time for a change," SOPAC Director of Marketing and Communications Scott Sullivan told Patch today via phone. "As we are getting ready for the 2012-13 season, the board felt a change of leadership was necessary."
When asked if the board was disappointed with Bollinger's performance, Sullivan would only say, "There are definitely things the board was happy about [that Bollinger did], including improving SOPAC's relationship and reputation within the community, partnering with the village on the free concerts in the park, the Giants of Jazz Concert and the [Jazz] in the Loft concerts."
Bollinger called Patch and talked about how proud he is of his work at SOPAC. He said he came into a very challenging situation, with a deficit budget and a great deal of tension between the village, the residents and SOPAC. Bollinger said he cut the deficit in half; he improved relations with the community and he increased the number and the diversity of events at SOPAC while simultaneously cutting the budget.
“I made an effort to be really involved in the community,” he said. “Whether it be judging the high school drama competition or [participating] in a meeting for Main Street, the Chamber of Commerce or speaking [in a school], I think the public feels a lot better now about SOPAC.”
This past season is notable for record-setting attendance and ticket sales at SOPAC. Bollinger would have completed his second year on Labor Day.
When asked if SOPAC will make a change in its programming or initiatives, Sullivan said they are not ready to answer that at this time.
"We wish him well," he added.
The upcoming fall season at SOPAC will be populated with events and performances for which Bollinger is responsible.
"Michael has done a great deal for us, and we are interested in carrying on and building on what he did," said SOPAC's board chairman Anthony Leitner. "He was the face of SOPAC out in public, and he helped to change the public perception of it. A lot of people will miss him."
When asked if Bollinger was fired, Leitner said, "I wouldn't use that word. This is not about failing." He continued, “We wanted a different leadership style.”
Bollinger is remembered by many for proposing to his wife, Linda Wilder, at SOPAC. The two were married Aug. 12 in Central Park.
in 2010, Bollinger said he was “honored” by the selection and looked forward to making a difference at SOPAC and in the village.
"The arts and cultural resources of South Orange are tremendous assets to the community,” he said.
In his first interview with Patch, Bollinger said SOPAC is something for locals to be proud of. "It's like being in a big living room,” he said. “You can see performers' facial expressions and the acoustics are great."
Onorevole has served as director of development for the past two years, with more than 10 years of experience managing non-profit organizations.
It is unclear where Bollinger is headed next. His career has already taken him all over the country from Virginia, where he was the first executive director of the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts and President of the Governor's School for the Arts Foundation Board, to Missouri, where he served as long-time Artistic Producing Director of Missouri's Lyceum Theatre and Founding Director of Mainstage Theatre Company and then to South Orange.
“I was blessed to know a lot of really nice people [in South Orange],” Bollinger said. “I like it there. It’s a good community. I’m disappointed to leave [SOPAC]… It would be a shame to lose those friendships.”
He added that performing arts are a difficult business; you have to go where the jobs are.
Bollinger has also produced and/or directed more than 200 plays and musicals.
“We’re coming off of a record-setting season of attendance and ticket sales," said SOPAC board of directors chairman Anthony Leitner in the release. "Our organization is stronger than ever. Our mission is clear and our membership and reach into the community is growing. SOPAC’s future is bright ... as is Michael’s.”